I got my first job out of college for a company 1500 miles away from where my wife attended school. The job was to help prep content for a new website, so I sold them on the idea of me working remotely. I was only a part-time temporary intern who had strict article count numbers to be accountable to. So they agreed. 

Seven years and four promotions later, I’ve managed to make a career for myself with a company I only visited for the first time five years after I was hired. 

In the last week, many people have been pushed into arrangements similar to mine as a precautionary health measure. Like others who have been writing to share their home-work experiences this last week, I hope my experience can prove useful to those looking to make the most of their time working remotely.

In my experience, there are two main ways that working remotely is different than working in an office setting: managing time and managing relationships.

Managing time seems to be the conversation that takes up more attention and concern these days, but in my experience, managing relationships is ultimately the more difficult issue.

The question I am most frequently asked when I tell people that I work remotely is “How do you manage to get any work done from home?” The question seems to conjure images of wrestling with kids while trying to eke out a few minutes to look at a computer screen. 

All this makes sense, of course, since it’s not uncommon to hear others who work primarily in an office but work from home once a week refer to their work-from-home day as, “like a day off.” And even those who don’t mean to take advantage of time away from the office can struggle with focus and self-discipline. 

Many people respond to this challenge by trying to impose office-like conditions on their at-home work, things like strict hours and visual barriers. This is largely the type of advice Jen Miller suggested in her suggestions for the same problem in the New York Times. And to a certain extent, this is necessary. You won’t get any work done if you don’t buckle up and focus. Boundaries and structure to the day can really help with that.  

But I’ve found more success embracing being at home than fighting it. If a load of laundry is ready to be done, I just do it. When I take a break, I can hug my kids and kiss my wife, and return to work more motivated and rested than any break at the office. Trying to puzzle over a difficult idea? I lie down in bed for a few minutes and do more thinking than I’ve ever done at a desk.

And unexpectedly, it may even end up being easier to focus. Need to finish a specific project or assignment? Close the door, set a timer, and go. You won’t have any unexpected meetings or coworkers dropping by—not to mention bosses looking over your shoulder to distract you.

In my experience, there are two main ways that working remotely is different than working in an office setting: managing time and managing relationships.

Obviously, not all of these techniques will work for you or apply. But my experience runs much closer to the advice given by Sarah Pulliam Bailey in her Washington Post piece on the subject. While she stresses the need for boundaries, her approach to working from home starts by thinking about the work environment from the ground up, rethinking everything from your clothes to your chair to your snacks. Figuring out how to work best at home will prove more successful than trying to force a home atmosphere to become too much like the office.

But by and large, the more substantial issue I have faced working remotely is building and maintaining relationships. 

It has become a meme over the past few days that all those unnecessary meetings will become emails. But there’s a good reason why those meetings still exist, and it’s to facilitate the kind of soft-relationship building that ends up creating so many of the ideas and partnerships that fuel long-term productivity. 

Relationships really are harder to facilitate online. Emails, chats, and text messages are famously devoid of body language and subtext. 

So my first suggestion would be to add video to as many conversations as you can, and where you can’t, then try phone calls. And when you do any of this, try to make time for a little small talk (on purpose) before you get to business. 

Other fun social tools like Slack can help teams stay loosely connected throughout the day. They have been built specifically to develop a feeling of community in an online environment. If your team doesn’t currently use a tool like that, consider getting them to adopt one while everyone is working remotely.

During these occasional check-ins with other colleagues, you might also want to adjust the way you talk. In addition to cultivating relationships through levity or gratitude, you probably want to be much more direct in what you need. When we interact with people face to face multiple times throughout the day, we can influence them without having to be blunt. Frankly, working remotely takes away that ability. You can’t afford to be rude, but whenever possible you’ll be better served by making the subtext clear and more explicit.

The last kind of communication that I find myself missing out on not being in an office is small reminders. When I need someone to do something for me, I can easily pop my head into their office or mention it as we pass each other in the hall. And even without saying it, my physical presence is a reminder to do what they need to do.

It’s a lot easier to get lost in the shuffle when you aren’t around. Yes, it’s still possible to go to the other extreme and be overbearing and annoying. But I found that without seeing them in person more regularly, I was able to send emails, text messages, and chat messages to the people I worked with much more often than you typically would in an office situation without annoying them. 

So for those of you who are new, welcome to the world of remote work. With a few slight adjustments, you should be able to make the most of your time away from the office.

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